January 19, 2017
“To put it bluntly: Everything you are marching to prevent, dear marchers, has already come to pass.”
The unthinkable has happened. The words “President Trump” are going to be part of our reality for at least the next four years.
In response, marches are being planned everywhere, including a giant one in D.C on the 20th of January. A women’s march, already mired in controversy, is planned for the 21st. I’ll have more to say on that later, but for now I wanted to address the issue of whether or not to march against Trump this week, or in the months and years following.
Health and structural issues prevent me from joining marchers on the 20th but if I could, I would. This doesn’t mean I support the march. I would march simply because I think it helps to send a signal, on Inauguration Day, to an extreme right wing, that millions are watching. In truth, I’m not even sure about anything beyond that: I wouldn’t march to send a message, because I’m not clear on what the “message” could be. The overall position of all the marches seems to be that “we” have lost some Eden, and that the country — and world — is moving perilously close to end times.
Too many of those marching are angry that Hillary Clinton, a ruthless, greedy, power-hungry woman, who helped end welfare for millions and basic rights for immigrants and who gleefully supported brutal wars against other countries, who saw the Presidency as an opportunity to increase her family’s wealth through a corrupt foundation, was not elected. I have nothing in common with such people.
The planned marches are evidence of the severe cultural and political amnesia that marks American public life and politics. Let’s consider, for instance, one of the major issues that marchers claim to be concerned about: Immigration.
Trump has been criticised for his openly articulated xenophobia, his determination to deport all the undocumented in this country, and his infamous plan to build a 1000 mile-long wall. The last proposal earned him derision as the Hitler of our time.
Trump's words on immigration have caused much hand-wringing amongst lefties and liberals. Horrors, they cry, our country was built on immigration, and we must prevent Trump’s anti-immigration plans from becoming reality.
Well, for starters, this country was actually built on genocide and slavery. Furthermore, in 2006, Hillary Clinton voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorised the building of a 700-mile barrier between Mexico and the United States. My favourite response to this is what someone supposedly said about the difference between Clinton's and Trump’s barriers: “For 300 mile, we call him Hitler?”*
Let’s now look at immigration under the Democrats.
1996, the year that Bill and Hillary Clinton feared losing a second term, saw the passage of the draconian Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). As I’ve written elsewhere, “taken together, the Acts increased the penalties for what were formerly relatively minor infractions and expanded the reach of the [prison industrial complex]...before 1996, undocumented immigrants apprehended and imprisoned for crimes were released after serving their sentences. After 1996, they would remain in prison until deported. Minor offenses, like driving under the influence or filing a false tax return would now be classified as “aggravated felonies” and place immigrants on the fast track to deportation.”
IIRIRA also instituted the 3 and 10-year bars. This meant that immigrants who stayed in the U.S for a period of 6 months to a year or over a year of their designated time would now be prevented from re-entry for 3 to 10 years, respectively. These legislative changes are largely responsible for the massive pool of undocumented people today — they remain in the shadows within the U.S rather than risk leaving, even to attend funerals of loved ones or to see if they might be able to petition for legal re-entry from their home countries.
And perhaps this is a good time to remind you that Obama has deported a record number of people, and has never come up with even a proposal for a robust shift in immigration policy. DAPA and DACA are merely executive orders, not actual legislation. Oh, and that much-criticised Muslim Registry you’re so horrified about? It already exists.
I could go down a long list of everything that the marchers claim to be against — mass incarceration, police brutality, the widening and deepening influence of Wall Street on politics, cuts to public education, and so much more — and show you how none of this is new but simply part of a long history in which Democrats have been more than complicit. As Arpi Kupelian said so succinctly in a comment on Facebook: “Donald Trump is the manifestation, he is not the story.”
To put it bluntly: Everything you are marching to prevent, dear marchers, has already come to pass. Donald Trump has yet to act on anything you’re terrified of; his predecessors, especially the Democrats, laid the ground plans for him, and all he has to do is expand on them.
The proposed marches are steeped in hypocrisy. What marchers seem to be complaining about is that Trump is simply not as genteel about his hatred for the most vulnerable, that he has not cloaked his vile policies in the feel-good rhetoric of empire (yes, we vanquished them, but we taught them so much) or joked about drones. Your marching has the effect of creating the illusion of a radical break in history. In fact, you are merely the suture between a terrible period of time and another, and as long as you cling to your wishful fantasy that things are changing — rather than acknowledge the truth, which is that things are just the same, with less politeness — your political agenda, whatever it is, is doomed to fail and it deserves to fail.
All that being said: I think you should march. I’ll continue, at the risk of seeming condescending, but some of this needs to be said: Many of you have only known the Obama years; almost your entire life has been in the shadow of the first Black president, and that is, for many reasons, a wonderful, glorious thing. But many of you have also never been involved in actual, physical politicking, choosing instead to lob threats and snark on social media, a poor substitute for political engagement. If you did march or protest, it was most likely in the friendly environs of your college or university, amongst people who agreed with you. Marching with thousands, possibly millions, of complete strangers can be exhilarating, even life-changing.
This will probably be new and even scary for many of you — there are no “safe spaces,” as you have come to understand them, in public marches. Go and march to feel that sense of connection or lack thereof with actual people, even those who will annoy you by stepping on your toes, literally and metaphorically. Learn the joy of shouting down and screaming at people you don’t agree with — the left needs more arguing, not less — because trying to formulate your discourse in real time, without the safety of cut-and-paste, is a whole new experience. If you feel like it, hook up for sex with people you might not know and whom you might never meet again (but remember, never feel pressured to do so; sex is not inherently radical, as I've pointed out). Try not to be disappointed if the people you march with turn out not to be exactly like you — or anything like you — in the weeks or months or years to come. Politics as a lived reality is never static, and it should not be. As you march, take a look at how power operates: Who is calling the shots, and why? Who is claiming priority over causes? Why do you think people are marching? Talk to them. If someone sounds like a grandstanding oaf, he probably is; go with your gut.
Be safe in ways that count. Try not to march without at least two friends in tow because, believe me, you should never trust that large crowds of people will have your back. Keep your eyes on the legal teams that will be accompanying the marchers (and if there aren’t any, worry and be extra safe). The basics are important — take water and snacks (many suggest wearing diapers — you could be arrested or never find a loo when you need one, in all the crowds). Keep an eye out for the most vulnerable — not in some Glorious Saviour way, but simply as someone who might be able-bodied and perhaps enjoy the relative privileges of skin and citizenship and who can shield or warn others who are more likely to be targeted by cops. The ACLU has this, on your legal rights. The DC Trans Coalition has some useful information as well. On FB, Elijah Edelman does caution that “folks should know that depending on where someone is arrested in DC can impact whether federal or DC law applies. DC laws regarding police and jails unfortunately don't apply to Park Police or other police jurisdictions that are technically on federal land.”
To those of you who consider yourselves veterans of such marches: I’m going to leave it to you to explain why you didn’t march in all the years that Obama bombed countries with drones and impunity.
So yes, march, because it’s necessary and because it will most likely be an amazing experience. But march with a sense of history; make a pact with yourself that, moving forward, you will never criticise Trump on any issue without first asking yourself, “Where and when has this already happened?”
You can read a companion piece, "March as Feminists, Not As Women," on the Verso blog.
*Anecdote courtesy of Doug Henwood.
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